Update, 3:30 pm: This story has been updated with the mayor's statement.
Austin must continue to mask up, despite the governor's order removing Texas' statewide mandate on March 10.
During a special meeting with city and county leaders on March 9, Austin City Council extended an ordinance authorizing Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott to "establish public health mandates" to continue requiring masks in businesses, according to City Council Member Greg Casar.
🚨BREAKING: the City of Austin is still legally requiring masks in our community, through our health authority rules. If state officials don’t want to do their jobs in this pandemic, then we’ll do it ourselves.— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) March 9, 2021
In Austin, we’re committed to saving lives. Period. #MaskUpATX 😷
“This action is both legal and the right thing to do. If state officials choose to sue, they’ll be going out of their way to harm the health of Texans," Casar said in an emailed statement. “We've had too many family members, too many friends, too many constituents die for us to stop listening to science. Local leaders will continue doing everything in our power to take care of Texans.”
By authorizing Escott, the ordinance circumvents the governor's order, which prohibited mayors and county judges from instituting mask mandates. The governor has already declared that Texans cannot be punished for failing to wear a mask, but according to CBS Austin, Escott warned that people who refuse to leave a business for violating the mask order can be subject to trespassing charges.
“Dr. Escott is the appointed public health physician and expert to whom our community entrusts our public health. His opinions, based on science, and data which further supports CDC guidelines have been consistent and have been and are reflected in the orders he has issued. He is committed to defeating COVID-19 in Austin and Travis County and the City will employ whatever tools are available to support his orders for the sake of all Austin schools, businesses and residents," said Mayor Steve Adler in a release. “The Governor said that virus related policy would be guided by the data and the doctors and we remain committed to this end. So, #MaskUpATX.”
Hundreds of businesses in Austin have already declared they would keep their current COVID-19 protocols in place, including masks, social distancing, and lower capacity. In his announcement last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he was leaving the decision to individual businesses but that the state was "reopen." Texas is the first state to make such a declaration, igniting backlash across the state and country and leading President Joe Biden to categorize the decision as "Neanderthal."
Also announced today, Austin Public Health is keeping the region under Stage 4 COVID-19 restrictions as vaccinations continue to ramp up in Central Texas. More than 45,000 Texans and 500,000 Americans have died of the novel coronavirus in the past year.
This is a developing story and will continue to be updated.